Earl K. Long Library, University of New Orleans.
The talk of merging the University of New Orleans with Southern University in New Orleans has been going on since I was a UNO student in the late 1970s. Now that Candidate Bobby Jindal (I do not refer to his elected title; he spends so much time out of the state campaigning for President, he forfeited the right to be called anything but a candidate) has destroyed most of the governmental infrastructure by not planning for sharp drops in oil prices and refusing to increase taxes/fees, lawmakers are scrambling to find any way possible to keep state-run universities from vanishing altogether.
Some background. The University of New Orleans was founded in 1957, a logical extension of the Louisiana State University system into the state's largest urban area. With thousands of men and women settling in after WWII, many wanted to use their GI Bill benefits and get a college degree. Working folks couldn't take time from life to spend four years as full-time students at LSU, so then-Governor Earl K. Long and the state legislature decided to convert the old Naval Station New Orleans site on Lake Pontchartrain into an institution of higher learning. (It didn't hurt that a university would extent the governor's control into Orleans Parish, pissing off his long-time rival/enemy, Mayor DeLessepps Story "Chep" Morrison.) So, Louisiana State University in New Orleans was born. The school dropped the "LS" in LSUNO in 1974, becoming UNO.
Southern University in New Orleans, just down the road from UNO
The late 1950s were Jim Crow days. To keep LSUNO white, a separate but equal institution had to be built. That was relatively easy for the state--just extend the Southern University system into Orleans Parish as well, so Southern University in New Orleans opened in 1959, just two miles from UNO's main campus.
By the 1970s, the African-American community in the city was done with SUNO as a separate institution. LSU in Baton Rouge got the lions' share of the state's education funding, UNO got the poor cuts of the meat, and SUNO got what was tossed on the floor for the dogs. Jarvis DeBerry explains in a 2011 column for NOLA.com:
SUNO was created in 1959 "for the express purpose of further perpetuating the immoral system of racism in this country." That's what an English professor at SUNO said in a letter to this newspaper a decade later. That same year, the New Orleans branch of the NAACP issued a statement that the organization "is unalterably opposed to segregated public education" and pushed for a merger of SUNO and what was then called LSUNO.
When I student President of the College of Education in 1978, this was more than a logical way of thinking. UNO had over 6000 black students in those days, 25% more than the entire SUNO student body. over 90% of Education graduates passed the National Teacher Examination, while only 25% of SUNO grads did. By the 1980s, several departments at both schools flirted with resource-sharing, particularly in Sociology/Social Work and Education.
But times have changed. Jindal has destroyed Louisiana, to the point where UNO, the larger school by far, is dropping degree programs because of massive budget cuts. It's only a matter of time before the only money left in the state budget for higher education will go to the "flagship" school, LSU.
It's a sad comment on Bobby Jindal's stewardship of Louisiana that blacks in this state have so little that now they feel SUNO is worth keeping. Again, DeBerry:
It's fair to ask, however: How is it that the very creation of SUNO isn't tallied as a loss? How does a campus the government created in the furtherance of segregation come to be championed by those whose segregation was the aim? It's the Joseph story. It's the story of black people all over this country who, while fully aware of their government's devilment, worked together with the faith that they could still squeeze out of it much that is good.
Nothing left to squeeze, unfortunately. This time, the UNO-SUNO merger may stick, being the only way to keep any public higher education in New Orleans.